Damian Lewis as Nick Brody in "Homeland." (Kent Smith / Showtime )
This week’s "Homeland" had all the elements for a great episode. Brody’s sudden disappearance, Carrie’s renewed love connection with him, and Quinn’s hidden identity could have all added up to a brilliant installment. Instead there was something lackluster about Episode 9, a problem with the pacing and tone that even the skillful acting and clever camerawork couldn’t rectify.
Perhaps the main problem is with Abu Nazir's hiding in the United States. There must be some huge stakes riding on his plan for him to risk being recognized in hostile territory. The plan that Brody reveals, which centers on a massacre of newly returned war veterans, just doesn’t seem big and splashy enough for Nazir. Last season, he tried to take out the highest echelons of American government. Why would he go for a less-high profile target now?
And, of course, there’s the question of how much we should trust any information Brody gives the CIA. His meeting with Nazir ended peacefully, but he clearly wasn’t divulging everything to Carrie and Estes. That shaky hug between Brody and Nazir indicated something else going on — perhaps another suicide bomb attempt.
Aside from Brody’s escape and involvement in future terrorist activities, this week’s episode got bogged down in twisting side plots that had little payoff. When Brody urgently requests that his family get to a safe house, the person who convinces the Brodys is Mike. The confrontation between Dana and Mike -- when Mike flips from concerned avuncular figure to Army hard-ass — was a nice touch. Dana clearly sees Mike as something of a father figure. But in a pinch, Mike isn’t going to put up with her sulky teenage antics as readily as a father would.
Happily ensconced in a lavish safe house, the Brodys snack on eggs and drink half-decent wine. In the middle of the night Jess sneaks into Mike’s bedroom, surely making things all the more confused in her already rocky marriage. But it’s not clear why this is happening between them now — what incident caused Jess’ iron will to break? There’s something inconsistent about the character development here, and having complex and consistent characters is what "Homeland" runs on.
The other bit of tension involves the mysterious Quinn, who, it turns out, is playing far below his pay grade. Saul does a little sleuthing, and the team figures out that Quinn reports to a higher agent than Estes. It’s not until the end, when the CIA takes down Roya and her contingent but fail to capture Nazir, that Quinn’s true purpose is revealed. He’s an assassin, and he’s there to take care of Brody as soon as the congressman has outlived his usefulness.
What it amounts to is that this week’s "Homeland" was clearly paving the way for the final episodes. But even with the glimmer of a payoff in the next few weeks, it came off as a surprisingly weak episode in a very strong season. Like the CIA with Brody, the audience can only hope that "Homeland" knows what it’s getting into.